Monday, May 18, 2015

Cruising the Web

John Fund reminds us of George Stephanopolous's long history of using his perch as a supposed "journalist" to serve the Clintons. Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, whose interview on ABC by Stephanopolous revealed the hypocrisy of the former Clinton operative for attacking Schweizer on possible conflicts of interest in his biography while ignoring Stephanopolous's own conflicts of interest writes in the USA Today,
What I did not expect — what no one expected — was the sort of "hidden hand journalism" that has contributed to America's news media's crisis of credibility in particular, and Americans' distrust of the news media more broadly.

If Stephanopoulos had disclosed his donations to the very foundation I was there to talk about, perhaps it would have put the aggressive posture of his interview with me in context.

But he didn't.

And even though he has apologized to his viewers for keeping this information from both his audience and his bosses, there is much that Stephanopoulos has yet to disclose to his viewers. Indeed, far from being a passive donor who strokes Clinton Foundation checks from afar, a closer look reveals that Stephanopoulos is an ardent and engaged Clinton Foundation advocate.

For example, in his on air apology for this ethical mess, Stephanopoulos did not disclose that in 2006 he was a featured attendee and panel moderator at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).
Scweizer goes on to detail Stephanopolous's many activities on behalf of the CGI which involved interactions with some of the very people that Schweizer discussed in his book.
Perhaps if Stephanopoulos weren't so close to the subject of my book, he might have asked me about my reporting on Hillary Clinton's brother, Tony Rodham, serving on the board of a company that scored a coveted and rare gold mining permit in Haiti as the Clintons directed the flow of U.S. Agency for International Development dollars. (As The Washington Post reported, Rodham met those mining executives at a CGI meeting.)

Indeed, Stephanopoulos could have pounded away at all the book's news. He chose not to. Instead, he made sure to highlight the four months I wrote speeches for President George W. Bush and my long past financial supporters, all while keeping quiet about his deep and longstanding involvement in the Clintons' foundation, and the three annual checks for $25,000 that he wrote.

What ABC News' top anchor has done is far different than the "honest mistake" ABC called it in a statement earlier this week.
There is now a steady drip-drip of news about Stephanopolous's journalistic malfeasance regarding the Clintons just as there were stories about Brian Williams' exaggerating his personal bravery in situations he reported on. Why should either man get a pass? Both involved misleading the public about their personal biographies. If anything, Stephanopolous's actions were more damaging to the supposed goal of journalism to deliver a fair accounting to viewers. All Brian Williams did was puff up his own personal story. Stephanopolous hid his own conflicts of interest while attacking a journalist for his reporting on the Clintons. His actions distorted the interview and delivered a faulty story to viewers. That should be considered a more egregious sin than deceptive bragging. Yet ABC seems determined to prop up Stephanopolous as their lead political correspondent and anchor of both GMA and This Week.

Chalk up George Stephanopolous who has had his reputation damaged by connection with the Clintons. As Joe Klein wrote almost 20 years ago, they are the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of American politics.
Which brings us to the most disappointing Whitewater "revelation." It is about the character of the Clintons. They are the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of the Baby Boom Political Elite. The Buchanans, you may recall, were E Scott Fitzgerald's brilliant crystallization of flapper fecklessness in "The Great Gatsby." They were "careless" people. They smashed up lives and didn't notice. After two years, it's become difficult to avoid a distinguishing characteristic of this administration: the body count. Too many lives and reputations have been ruined by carelessness, too many decent people have been forced to walk the plank for trivialities, appearances, changes of mind. Whitewater has been the worst of it. From the start, aides pleaded with the Clintons to come clean--to release all relevant documents, answer all questions. They didn't. They have, instead, sulked and blamed Republicans and the press for blowing things out of proportion. True enough: there still isn't a hint of criminality here. But that only makes their behavior more mystifying. How could the First Lady allow her chief of staff to spend $140,000 on legal fees? Why hasn't she come forward and said, "Stop torturing my staff. This isn't about them. I'll testify. I'll make all documents available. I'll sit here and answer your stupid, salacious questions until Inauguration Day, if need be." Maybe the Clintons are hiding something. But I'll be surprised if it's anything cosmic. Certainly it won't be nearly as depressing as the casual insensitivity they've already revealed.
It's taken a bit longer for the Clinton poison to catch up with Stephanopolous, but the trend continues.

Hillary Clinton has a long history of being deceptive on trade.
Hillary Clinton is getting a lot of flack for remaining nearly silent on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, and she deserves all of it. Well, almost all of it.

“It is generally the case that if you don’t have the courage to run on a particular platform, you will not have any more courage to govern on it once you are in office,” Robert Kagan writes. “Presidents usually only do what they say they are going to do.” In other words, if Clinton doesn’t stand up to the dead-end anti-trade ideology in her party now, she never will.

But there’s significant evidence that’s not true. Clinton’s cowardice on trade should be very familiar. It’s the same sort of populist pandering that she and Barack Obama engaged in during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. No one should have believed then that she or Obama meant it. No one should expect now that she will be any more of an anti-trade firebrand than President Obama turned out to be.

Clinton and Obama competed frantically in 2008 over who would be seen as the angriest about the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In stump speeches, Obama promised to “renegotiate NAFTA” and threatened to rip the United States out of the regional cooperation deal if our next-door allies didn’t give in. Clinton took about the same position and attacked Obama for every hint that he didn’t mean it.

And, of course, he didn’t. Sophisticated observers at the time assumed that Obama and Clinton weren’t being honest about their intentions, that both were level-headed enough to realize that the anti-trade sentiment in some quarters of the Democratic Party is neither warranted nor wise. These assumptions were all but confirmed when word came that Austan Goolsbee, at the time a top Obama economic adviser, assured the Canadian government that Obama’s anti-trade positioning was more about politics than an indication of what he would do in the White House. The Obama campaign aggressively denied the claims, but a leaked Canadian government memo subsequently indicated something like that nevertheless happened.

Unsurprisingly, Obama didn’t renegotiate NAFTA when he got into office. Clinton wouldn’t have, either. Nor will she if she takes office in 2017. And, despite her 2008 rhetoric on trade, she championed the TPP as secretary of state, which indicates that she would sign that trade deal if it were still lingering on the national agenda by the time she entered the Oval Office.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton being deceptive about their political goals? Who'd have thought it?

Jonathan Last has edited a book, The Daddy Virtues: Adventures from the Worst Job You'll Ever Love with entries from conservative writers such as P.J. O'Rourke, Jonah Goldberg, Andrew Ferguson, Matthew Continetti and others on fatherhood. You can listen to an appearance by several of the contributors at AEI as they talk about the worst thing they ever did as a father. It's quite funny.
If you happened to read the collection, The Seven Deadly Virtues: 18 Conservative Writers on Why the Virtuous Life is Funny as Hell , you'll know what a humorous treat you're in for. This new book sounds like the perfect Father's Day present.

This is your IRS. Thank Heavens for the Institute for Justice which is the only defense sometimes for individuals targeted by the government. The Washington Post explains how the government works to target small businesses and what happened to one North Carolina small businessman.
The Department of Justice defines it like this: in civil forfeiture cases, "the property is the defendant and no criminal charge against the owner is necessary." Money, of course, can't actually be guilty of anything. But local, state and law enforcement agents use the convenient construct of monetary guilt to seize people's property without convicting them of a crime -- or even charging them.

In seizing property, law enforcement agencies tend to prefer these civil forfeitures to criminal ones, because the standard of proof is considerably lower in civil cases. Some numbers that speak to that point: in 2014, U.S. attorneys seized $679 million in assets through criminal actions, and $3.9 billion through civil actions.

Once seized, it can be prohibitively expensive to get your money back. Many asset forfeiture victims simply give up the fight completely, a Washington Post investigation found last year. But 41 percent of victims who challenged the government's actions were able to get some or all of their money back, suggesting that government agencies are casting a wide net when it comes to whom they target for these actions.

But in at least one case this week -- the case involving the $107,000 mentioned above -- the federal government relented and agreed to return all of the money it seized from a small business owner last summer.

Lyndon McLellan has owned and operated L&M Convenience Mart in rural Fairmont, N.C., for more than 10 years, according to the Institute for Justice. The institute is a national civil liberties law firm that advocates for asset forfeiture reform, and it represented McLellan pro bono in court. One day last July, a group of state and federal officers showed up at his store to inform him that they had emptied his entire bank account -- all $107,702.66 of it.

Like many small retail operations, McLellan conducts much of his business in cash. But the Internal Revenue Service didn't like the way he deposited it in his bank account. On the advice of a bank teller, McLellan made most of his cash deposits in chunks of $10,000 dollars or less. There's less paperwork involved with sub-$10,000 deposits, and some companies have insurance policies that only cover up to $10,000 in cash losses.

It is, quite obviously, 100 percent legal to make make deposits of less than $10,000. But it is illegal to do so with the express purpose of avoiding the closer IRS scrutiny that comes with larger deposits -- a practice known as "structuring." McLellan had no reason to want to hide his cash, or to avoid scrutiny. His business was completely legitimate, and he paid his taxes in full. He was just trying to avoid some hassle for the bank tellers and everyone else involved.

Had IRS officials spoken with McLellan before raiding his account, they probably would have realized right away that he had nothing to hide. But the IRS didn't speak with him, and instead went directly to a federal judge to obtain a seizure warrant.

In its complaint against McLellan, the IRS noted a pattern of bank deposits "which appeared to be structured to evade the Currency Transaction Report (CTR) threshold of $10,000" (emphasis added). The IRS also had informed McLellan several years prior that "structuring bank deposits to avoid federal reporting requirements was a violation of the law," and warned him that any future violations "could result in prosecution and/or seizure and forfeiture of all property involved in, or traceable to, such violations."

So McLellan was warned, but he continued to make smaller cash deposits: he believed he was in compliance with the law because he was not attempting to hide anything from the government. Note the key clause in the IRS letter: to avoid federal reporting requirements. If you're depositing sub-$10,000 amounts because that's all you have on you, or because you don't want to have big piles of cash sitting around your office, or for literally any reason other than "trying to hide it from the IRS," you are doing nothing wrong.

But the IRS took his money anyway. As McLellan put it, "It took me 13 years to save that much money, and 13 seconds for the government to take it away."
There has been some effort by the federal government to respond to public criticism, but they still kept going after Lyndon McLellan even warning him against going public by allowing his IJ attorney to testify before Congress.
But in spite of all this, the IRS continued to prosecute its claims against Lyndon McLellan's money. When the Institute for Justice publicized the case earlier this year, and it took front and center in a congressional hearing, the U.S. attorney in charge of McLellan's case sent a letter to his lawyers. It read, in part:
Whoever made [the case documents] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case. Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. My offer is to return 50% of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.
When the government turns up no evidence of wrongdoing, it often attempts to settle with asset forfeiture victims, often for amounts far less than the original amount seized. Often, these settlements come with strings attached that prevent the victims from countersuing the federal government for damages or for the payment of lawyer and court fees.

Many people accept -- the Post investigation found more than 1,000 such settlements in its investigation of highway forfeitures alone -- because the cost of litigating against the federal government is prohibitively high. And almost by definition, asset forfeiture victims have been stripped of most or all of their wealth to begin with.

"Another word for it would be extortion," lawyer Robert Everett Johnson said in an interview. He's one of the Institute for Justice lawyers working on McLellan's case. The IRS has your money, but they realize you did nothing wrong. "'We're not going to prosecute,'" Johnson said, explaining the IRS' position in settlement offers, "'but we think you should give us half your money anyway.'"
There is something so despicable and evil about this whole scenario. It is for situations like this the word Kafkaesque was created. The IRS needs to compensate Mr. McLellan for his legal fees and repay the interest he lost on having his money confiscated.

Jonah Goldberg is enjoying the shock and dismay that Democrats are feeling when President Obama treats them the way that he's been treating Republicans from the beginning.
“Let’s suppose you are trying to bring a friend around to your point of view,” Milbank writes. “Would you tell her she’s emotional, illogical, outdated, and not very smart? Would you complain that he’s being dishonest, fabricating falsehoods and denying reality with his knee-jerk response?”

“Such a method of a persuasion is likelier to get you a black eye than a convert,” Milbank notes. “Yet this is how President Obama treats his fellow Democrats on trade . . .”

Yes, well, true enough. But lost on Milbank is the fact that this is precisely how Obama treats everyone who disagrees with him. When Obama — who ran for office touting his ability to work with Republicans and vowing to cure the partisan dysfunction in Washington — treated Republicans in a far ruder and shabbier way, Milbank celebrated.

Of course, he was hardly alone.

Republicans, in Obama’s view, are always dishonest, fabricating falsehoods and denying reality with their knee-jerk responses.

To pick just one of countless examples, there was a White House summit on health care in 2010. The president invited members of Congress to discuss the issue in good faith. He then proceeded to treat every concern, objection, and argument from Republicans as dumb, dishonest, or emotional. They were, according to a column by Milbank, “stepping into Prof. Obama’s classroom.” Milbank marveled at how the “teacher” treated them all “like his undisciplined pupils.” Whenever someone said anything politically inconvenient, the president replied that those were just partisan “talking points.”

When Senator John McCain, his opponent in the previous election, noted that Obama had broken numerous promises and that the 2,400-page bill was a feeding trough for special interests, Obama eye-rolled. “Let me just make this point, John,” Obama said. “We’re not campaigning anymore. The election’s over.”

He responded to Senator Lamar Alexander — he called him “Lamar” — “this is an example of where we’ve got to get our facts straight.” When it was Representative John Boehner’s turn to speak, Obama reprimanded “John” for trotting out “the standard talking points” and, in the words of a palpably impressed Milbank, forced Boehner to “wear the dunce cap.”

Again, this was all quintessential Obama then, and it’s quintessential Obama now. All that has changed is that he’s doing the exact same thing to Democrats, and it’s making them sad. Specifically, he’s accused Senator Elizabeth Warren of not having her facts straight. He says she’s just a politician following her partisan self-interest.

But here’s the hilarious part: Liberals can’t take it. The president of NOW, Terry O’Neill, accused Obama of being sexist. O’Neill sniped that Obama’s “clear subtext is that the little lady just doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” She added, “I think it was disrespectful.” Both O’Neill and Senator Sherrod Brown also sniff sexism in the fact that Obama referred to Warren as “Elizabeth.”

“I think referring to her as first name, when he might not have done that for a male senator, perhaps?” Brown mused with his typical syntactical ineptness.

Of course, in that White House health-care summit and in nearly every other public meeting with Republican senators and congressmen, he referred to them all by their first names.

The great irony is that when Republicans complain about Obama’s haughtiness and arrogance, liberals accuse them of being racist. I hope I don’t miss that phase of this spat while I’m off making the popcorn.

Does going shirtless help a man's political ambitions? Probably not, unless he's Vladimir Putin.

Could freedom come at last for New Jersey drivers? One assemblyman wants to allow New Jerseyites to be able to pump their own gas. If you've ever driven through New Jersey, you will remember what a pain it is to have to wait for an attendant to get around to pumping your gas because you are forbidden by law from pumping your own. The only reason for this law is to protect the jobs of those attendants, but New Jersey politicians try to pretend that it is all about safety. Yeah, like drivers in the other 48 states are so very endangered every time we get out of our cars at a gas station.

Republicans are looking for candidates to run and lose.
Now Republicans are looking for a few more good losers like Linares as the 2016 presidential campaign gets under way.

The goal isn't necessarily to win these races, but to improve the performance of the Republican ticket overall and build a base for success over the longer term. That could help the party's presidential candidate as well - if he or she loses a city like Cleveland by a smaller margin, that boosts the chances of winning Ohio, a crucial swing state.

The Republican party fielded eight state legislature candidates in Chicago last year, its best showing in decades. All of those candidates lost, but Rauner won 47,000 more votes in Chicago's Cook County than the last Republican candidate did in 2010 - more than one-third of his margin of victory statewide.

"These sorts of things trickle up," said Caitlin Huxley, a Chicago Republican who helped recruit local candidates.

Huxley and other Republicans are seeking to erode a geographic polarization that has grown more pronounced in recent decades as Americans have gradually sorted themselves into ideologically uniform neighborhoods, with Democrats clustering in densely populated cities and suburbs and Republicans scattering to distant exurbs and rural areas.

In 1980, Republicans won 48 percent of the vote in the 100 largest U.S. counties, according to James Gimpel, a University of Maryland political scientist. In 2012, that share had shrunk to 38 percent.

That is an increasing liability. Republican George W. Bush carried the Cincinnati and Columbus metro areas when he won Ohio in 2004, but Obama won them both when he took the state in 2012. Bush won Colorado in 2004 thanks to his strong showing in the suburban areas around Denver; Obama won those counties, and the state, in 2012.

Fast-growing urban areas are turning states that were once solidly Republican, like Virginia and North Carolina, into battlegrounds and pushing formerly competitive states like Pennsylvania further out of Republicans' reach. Even in deeply conservative Texas, the state's four largest cities - Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin - voted for Obama in 2012.

We're already more than a year out, and there's already talk of a brokered GOP convention.
Top-tier presidential campaigns are preparing for the still-unlikely scenario that the nomination fight goes all the way to the 2016 Republican National Convention. There hasn’t been a brokered convention since 1976, but the strength of the GOP field, when coupled with the proliferation of super PACs, increases the chances that several candidates could show up in Cleveland next July with an army of delegates at their backs.

“It’s certainly more likely now than it’s been in any prior election, going back to 1976,” Thor Hearn, the general counsel to George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, tells National Review. “I don’t put it as a high likelihood, but it’s a much more realistic probability than it’s been in any recent experience.”

....GOP strategists think that if a single candidate fails to win two of the first four races — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — the elections that take place immediately after those states vote could turn out any number of ways. And because RNC rules require the states that hold elections before March 15 to award their delegates proportionally, the later races could have a significant influence on the outcome of the nomination process.

“If one candidate wins one winner-take-all [state] and a couple other candidates win other winner-take-all [states], you can see a scenario where it’s possible that nobody would have 50 percent of the delegates going into the convention,” Munisteri says, acknowledging that the Paul campaign is preparing for a lengthy fight. “The key strategy for us is to focus on the immediate states while at the same time being prepared to react quickly to the later states.”
I'm not sure whether it would help or hurt the GOP to have such an exciting contest for the nomination, but it sure would be interesting for my AP Government and Politics students. Whether it happens or not, the GOP contest is going to be a lot more interesting than the Democratic one.

Here's yet another example of how ludicrous the NCAA is as they went after a young fencer who was also modeling to earn money on the side. Apparently, that's a big no-no for the NCAA. Athletes can't earn their own money.
The NCAA excused my prior modeling because, per their explanation, it preceded my NCAA career. Now that I was an “active athlete,” I was barred from gaining compensation for any modeling going forward.

The ramifications of this mandate were severe. Given the time and energy necessary to pursue modeling work, I couldn’t afford to do it unpaid. (I can’t imagine anyone could.) And so I swallowed hard and accepted my counterintuitive reality: I wanted to fence, build my modeling career and earn an education, all at once. To remain an amateur, I had to choose two out of three.

But I didn’t have a choice, really. Fencing was my life. Modeling was my livelihood. The irony was bizarre and cruel. The NCAA was putting me in a position where, in order to prioritize my career, I had to drop out of school.
Think of how ridiculous that is. Sure, there could be some boosters who would provide a job to an athlete just to shovel some extra money at the kid. But not every student-athlete can afford to go to school without earning money on the side. Yet the NCAA won't let them do that. Better to drop out of school than to build up a career on the side. Think about it if they told other students who were earning money by doing something on the side while in college that they had to choose between an education and earning a bit of money. We'd have a lot more dropouts. But that is the crazy sort of logic that typifies so much of what the NCAA does.

Doug Bandow explains why it is a good idea to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman.
Indeed, replacing Andrew Jackson makes a certain sense since he resolutely opposed a federal central bank. He likely would be horrified if he returned and found his visage gracing paper money for a system far more malign than the Bank of the United States, which he battled ferociously and ultimately killed. Tough, cantankerous, and short-tempered, he would make today’s denizens of Capitol Hill feel his pain.

Moreover, Tubman would be a great choice to replace him. She represents the best of America. She was born between 1820 and 1822 in Maryland to slave parents. She was christened Araminta Ross and her mother fought hard to hold the family together. Tubman was hired out and often beaten. She suffered permanent harm but her strong Christian faith helped sustain her. After her owner’s death in 1849, which led his widow to begin selling their slaves, she escaped through the Underground Railroad to Philadelphia.

However, a year later she returned to Maryland to rescue her niece and the latter’s two children, beginning a career of leading slaves to freedom. Frederick Douglass may have hosted one of her groups, sheltering it and raising money to send the fugitives on to Canada. She was daring and creative; her plans were sophisticated. Although she trusted God she also saw value in arming herself. Among the 70 or so slaves she saved were her three brothers. She also helped instruct scores of other escapees. Neither she nor any of those she guided were captured. She directed her last rescue in December 1860.

Tubman also was an active abolitionist and lecturer, friendly with New York Senator William Seward. She aided John Brown, though she played no direct role in his raid on Harpers Ferry. During the Civil War she pressed abolition on the Lincoln administration. With greater effect she aided slave refugees, served as a nurse, and acted as a scout for the federal army. Long after the war she aided the cause of women’s suffrage, working with Susan Anthony, among others. Despite manifold health problems she lived past 90, dying in 1913.

It’s an incredible legacy.

Tubman fought enormous injustice and promoted human liberty. She advocated genuine equality of opportunity, allowing women to vote, rather than the sort of PC notions of equality popular today. She exhibited courage in fighting and breaking unjust laws. She was no ivory tower theorist, but took the lead in putting her views into action. She never saw her work as done, but constantly joined anew the battle for freedom. Never did she wait for bureaucrats, politicians, judges, lawyers, and others to act. Instead, she acted to rescue the oppressed.

In short, she represented the common women and men across the country who contributed much to make America. Andrew Jackson was more influential in setting national policy, but Tubman represented the many that battled against the great injustice, slavery, which he accepted. Until that practice ended America could not be considered either truly good or free.
This should be a bipartisan opportunity pay tribute to a great woman and celebrate her history of risking her life for liberty for others.